Masters Confidential: Will Tiger's playing partners suffer?
Every morning this week, writers and editors from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine will address one pressing question about the Masters in a daily version of PGA Tour Confidential, our weekly roundtable discussion.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: K.J. Choi said he was happy to be paired with Tiger Woods because he likes playing in front of big crowds, but getting Tiger duty this week has to hurt. How many shots do you think it will cost Choi and Matt Kuchar to play with Woods, and what can they do to combat the problem? If you had to choose between playing in Tiger's group, the group in front or the group behind, which would you take and why?
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I expect Matt to fire his caddy and put Dad back on the bag. Just spell Dad's name right. He was a total ham while caddying for Matt last time cheering, signing autographs, mugging for TV, etc.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I'd rather play with Tiger Woods at the 2010 Masters than the 2001 Masters. That Tiger lapped fields and made opponents squirm. This Tiger? Who knows? Last time we saw Tiger in a major, K.J. Choi's countryman, Y.E. Yang, was beating him at the PGA. K.J. and Matt will be fine.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Artful questions, but I disagree with the premise. For KJC, a showman at heart, playing with Tiger will be worth half a shot a side, or two shots over the course of 36 holes. Poor Matt, that's another matter. He might be a little star-struck. His play can be painfully slow, which means more time to hear more. It might cost him a shot over two days. Which is huge. I would certainly want to be playing with Tiger. For any pro, the bigger the gallery the better. Big crowds=more balls in play.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Everyone here seems to think it will be peaches and cream playing with TW. A couple early bogies and Choi and/or Kuchar will begin to feel the weight of all those extra eyeballs. The Masters is more mellow than the other majors but there will be plenty of distractions and irritations. Tiger's playing partners and the guys in the groups around him may wind up craving their old anonymity.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: It's probably easier to play with Tiger than to have to deal with the swarms of people who move behind and ahead of his group. The Pinkerton guards are there, and it's a very controlled environment. If Tiger gets the fist pumps going, then it can be a problem, but he says he's going to scale back on that to gel with his newfound temper control. I expect Kuchar to respond positively to the moment. Remember the first time he played Augusta with his Dad in 1998? He loved the attention. As for Choi, though he is a Christian, he comes as close as anyone on tour to carrying a Buddhist aura on and off the course. He won't blink at the roars and emotional ups and downs of the Tiger gallery.
Joe Posnanski, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Seems to me this is not as big an issue at the Masters. Press behind the ropes. Limited tickets. I don't see it as much of a problem. I think playing with Tiger in the first round could even be an advantage, especially for someone like Choi, because there's going to be a lot of energy and the pressure is really on Tiger. The tough time, I think, is playing with Tiger on Saturday. And, of course, on Sunday, though I'm sure both of those guys would take that pairing right now.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I agree with Farrell that it will be easier to play with Tiger than in front of or behind him. I actually think Kuchar will play well at this Masters. He's had a decent year. Same goes for Choi, whose caddie Andy Prodger told me it's Tiger who got paired with them, not the other way around. I am not assuming Woods will beat both or even either of them given the rust he's bound to have. If Tiger's first round back from this thing were at Bethpage Black, Choi and Kuchar would be in for a long day, but it won't get terribly rowdy at genteel Augusta.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Here's another reason why Choi and Kuchar won't find it to be that chaotic: Masters spectators are more evenly distributed. The majority of longtime badge holders plant themselves in greenside chairs on the front nine, so there isn't that great churn of fans running to the next green that you see at the U.S. Open. Furthermore, both of Tiger's partners are Masters veterans, so the sheer number of onlookers won't be a novelty. If I had game, I'd definitely want to share Tiger's spotlight and be a part of fanfare, please HISTORY! Think of the stories they'll get to tell their grandkids.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I'd take whatever group they give me, like Poulter said, and be thrilled to have it. If a grouping can make or break your Masters, you've got no chance to win anyway.